Republican candidates’ strength in 2014 midterm elections may hurt presidential hopes for 2016

DENVER (AP) -- Republican strength in this year’s House and Senate races could, strangely enough, hurt the party’s presidential chances by stalling the changes in style and policy advocated after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential campaign.

GOP officials and strategists say it’s hard to persuade party leaders to adjust the political recipe when they feel increasingly upbeat about adding Senate control to their solid House majority this fall. This optimism, numerous GOP strategists say, makes looking past the party’s loss of the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections easy.

"It’s very difficult to make an argument for change and modernization when you’re winning," said Joel Sawyer, a former South Carolina GOP official who advises campaigns in several states. Citing the party’s nationwide reliance on older white voters, Sawyer said, the GOP needs "to start modernizing now to become relevant to younger voters and nonwhite voters."

The party’s dilemma was in sharp relief in a Denver public television studio here, where four candidates gathered for a Republican primary debate in the race to represent the deeply conservative, rural and exurban 4th Congressional District, which covers the eastern third of the state.


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All the candidates said they oppose gay marriage, want to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care plan and object to allowing people living in the country illegally to become citizens.

Militants post photos of Iraqi soldiers being lined up and shot north of Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The Islamic militants who overran cities and towns in Iraq last week posted graphic photos that appeared to show their gunmen massacring scores of captured Iraqi soldiers, while the prime minister vowed Sunday to "liberate every inch" of captured territory.

The pictures on a militant website appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot at several locations.

Chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi confirmed the photos’ authenticity and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL. He told The Associated Press that an examination of the images by military experts showed that about 170 soldiers were shot to death by the militants after their capture.

Captions on the photos showing the soldiers after they were shot say "hundreds have been liquidated," but the total could not immediately be verified.

On Friday, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned against "murder of all kinds" and other war crimes in Iraq, saying the number killed in recent days may run into the hundreds. She said in a statement that her office had received reports that militants rounded up and killed Iraqi soldiers as well as 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. Her office also heard of "summary executions and extrajudicial killings" after ISIL militants overran Iraqi cities and towns, she said.

For Obama, chaos in Iraq sparks fresh questions about how America’s wars end

WASHINGTON (AP) -- From the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama outlined a timetable for the gradual withdrawal of the last U.S. troops in Afghanistan and said confidently, "This is how wars end in the 21st century."

But less than three weeks after his May 27 announcement, there is a sudden burst of uncertainty surrounding the way Obama has moved to bring the two conflicts he inherited to a close.

In Iraq, a fast-moving Islamic insurgency is pressing toward Baghdad, raising the possibility of fresh American military action more than two years after the last U.S. troops withdrew. The chaos in Iraq also raises questions about whether Obama’s plans to keep a small military presence in Afghanistan until the end of 2016 can prevent a similar backslide there or whether extremists are simply lying in wait until the U.S. withdrawal deadline passes.

"Could all of this have been avoided? The answer is absolutely yes," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of the deteriorating situation in Iraq. McCain, one of the White House’s chief foreign policy critics and Obama’s 2008 presidential rival, added that Obama is "about to make the same mistake in Afghanistan he made in Iraq."

That criticism strikes at the heart of Obama’s clearest foreign policy pledge: a commitment to ending the conflicts started by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and keeping the U.S. out of further military entanglements.

Bitter feud between Casey Kasem’s family at odds with calmness of his pop culture work

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- In pop culture, Casey Kasem was as sweet and dependable as a glass of warm milk and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, which only made the ugliness of his last few years of life seem more bizarre and tragic.

The radio host of "American Top 40" and voice of animated television characters like Scooby-Doo’s sidekick Shaggy died Sunday morning at a hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington. He was 82. He suffered from a form of dementia, and his three adult children from his first wife fought a bitter legal battle with Kasem’s second wife, Jean, over control of his health care in his final months.

That made Kasem a fixture on news outlets that feed on the sleazier side of celebrity life at a time when it wasn’t clear he was aware of it or even able to understand.

This wouldn’t seem all that remarkable for a bad-behaving pop star or actor who shed spouses with the frequency of changing characters. But this was Casey Kasem, whose work epitomized the gentler, romantic side of pop culture, of a time when stars were admired for their celebrity and worshipped for their talent.

"American Top 40," with Kasem’s soft, homey voice counting down the hits, was a refuge from shock jocks or the screaming big-city radio voices. It was dependable, broadcast on some 1,000 stations at its peak, so if you were driving in Connecticut or Kansas, California or Kentucky, you could always take a measure of the pop charts with Casey.

Changing marijuana laws forcing judges, child protection services to re-examine endangerment

DENVER (AP) -- A Colorado man loses custody of his children after getting a medical marijuana card. The daughter of a Michigan couple growing legal medicinal pot is taken by child-protection authorities after an ex-husband says their plants endangered kids.

And police officers in New Jersey visit a home after a 9-year-old mentions his mother’s hemp advocacy at school.

While the cases were eventually decided in favor of the parents, the incidents underscore a growing dilemma: While a pot plant in the basement may not bring criminal charges in many states, the same plant can become a piece of evidence in child custody or abuse cases.

"The legal standard is always the best interest of the children, and you can imagine how subjective that can get," said Jess Cochrane, who helped found Boston-based Family Law & Cannabis Alliance after finding child-abuse laws have been slow to catch up with pot policy.

No data exist to show how often pot use comes up in custody disputes, or how often child-welfare workers intervene in homes where marijuana is used.

As losing streak grows longer, some foes of gay marriage vow to fight on

For foes of same-sex marriage, their losing streak keeps growing. Some sense a lost cause, others vow to fight on.

On Election Day in 2012, they went 0-for-4 on state ballot measures. A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. And over the past seven months, more than a dozen federal and state judges have struck down part or all of state-level bans on gay marriage, with no rulings going the other way.

Faced with these developments, some longtime opponents of gay marriage now say that its nationwide legalization via a Supreme Court ruling is inevitable. Others refuse to concede, and some leaders of that cohort will be rallying Thursday at a March for Marriage in Washington that they hope will draw many thousands.

The event’s main sponsor is the National Organization for Marriage, which engaged in several successful state campaigns against gay marriage prior to the 2012 votes in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state that reversed the tide.

NOM is promoting the march with a website that evokes a "road to victory" and a video featuring dramatic background music.

Israeli prime minister accuses Hamas militants of kidnapping teenagers missing in West Bank

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel’s prime minister on Sunday accused the Hamas militant group of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers who disappeared over the weekend, as the military arrested dozens of Palestinians and closed off West Bank roads in a frantic search for the youths.

The crisis escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas but backed by Hamas. Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group, has condemned the alliance and said it holds Abbas responsible for the teens’ safety.

"Hamas terrorists carried out Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. We know that for a fact," Netanyahu said. "Hamas denials do not change this fact."

Speaking in English, Netanyahu also tried to rally international opinion against the new Palestinian government. His calls for the international community to shun the government have been ignored so far.

"Instead of abiding by his international obligation to disarm Hamas, President Abbas has chosen to make Hamas his partner," he added. "I believe that the dangers of that pact now should be abundantly clear to all."

Biden adds stop in Guatemala

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden will highlight the plight of unaccompanied minors trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in a visit to Guatemala.

Senior administration officials on Sunday announced that Biden was adding that stop to a previously announced trip to Latin America this week. He’s planning to attend the U.S.-Ghana World Cup match-up in Brazil Monday, then head to Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Officials say Biden will meet with leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras on Friday.

The number of unaccompanied minors from those countries has soared more than 1,000 percent amid rampant crime and poverty in those countries, according to Border Patrol data. This year border agents have apprehended 48,000 children from those three countries.

President Barack Obama has called the surge a crisis.

U.S. presses Russia over
weapons flow to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday pressed his Russian counterpart to make clear Moscow’s commitment to end the flow of weapons and other support to separatists in Ukraine, the State Department said.

Kerry’s call with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came after pro-Russia separatists downed a Ukrainian military transport plane. All 49 troops and crew members aboard were killed.

The U.S. contends Russia has sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels.

A State Department official said Kerry expressed "strong concern" about the shootdown and the flow of weapons and militants across the Russian-Ukraine border. Kerry also urged a fair settlement of a natural gas dispute.

Kerry also talked with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private calls.

In addition, the U.S. condemned an attack on the Russian Embassy in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Protesters threw eggs and overturned parked cars with diplomatic plates.

Ukraine must meet its international obligations to provide "adequate security," department spokesman Jen Psaki said.

Jet from Florida diverted to
New York over warning light

NEW YORK (AP) -- JetBlue says a Florida-to-Connecticut flight has been diverted to New York City after a mechanical warning light went on. The plane landed safely, and no one was injured.

Flight 1142 was headed Sunday from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Hartford, Connecticut, with 84 people aboard when the indicator appeared at around 1:15 p.m. An airline spokesman didn’t have immediate information on exactly what the warning light signaled.

JetBlue Airways Corp. says the pilot decided to land at Kennedy Airport "in an abundance of caution."

Te Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says the plane taxied to a gate without any problems.

Maintenance workers are checking out the plane. Passengers are to be taken to Hartford on another aircraft.